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Cities and Productivity: Evidence from 16 Latin American and Caribbean Countries with M. Roberts, Journal of Urban Economics Vol. 136, July 2023, 103573.

This paper explores the roles of agglomeration economies and human capital externalities in accounting for productivity variations across sub-national areas in 16 Latin American and Caribbean countries. We estimate positive elasticities of productivity with respect to density. While heterogeneity exists across countries, the estimated agglomeration elasticities for the region are comparable to those estimated in the literature for high-income countries. Including human capital measures reduces the estimated agglomeration elasticities for several countries in our sample. We also find that human capital externalities play a stronger role in explaining spatial productivity differentials than agglomeration economies in the region. By providing comparable estimates of the strength of agglomeration economies and human capital externalities for many  non-high-income countries, the paper considerably expands knowledge on the determinants of urban productivity. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 8560 version.


Unequal Response to Mobility Restrictions: Evidence from COVID-19 Lockdown in the City of Bogotá with David Castells‐Quintana, Paula Herrera-Idárraga, and Guillermo Sinisterra,Spatial Economic Analysis, August 2023,

In this paper, we study the efficacy of government-mandated mobility restrictions on curbing urban mobility, and estimate the spatial heterogeneity in lockdown compliance. We explore the role of cash subsidies disbursed during lockdown as well as socioeconomic differences across neighborhoods in explaining their unequal response to mobility restrictions. We rely on novel data showing changes in movements at highly disaggregated spatial units in Bogota ́, before and during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We match it with data on socioeconomic characteristics and Non- Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) implemented in the period of analysis. We find that the general lockdown imposed in the city significantly reduced mobility (by about 41pp). When looking at the unequal response across locations, we find that low-income areas, with higher population density, informality and overcrowding, reacted less to mobility restrictions. We also find that cash subsidies were insufficient to make compliance easier in low-income neighborhoods. See slides. Policy version from the UNDP Latin America and the Caribbean Working Paper Series here. Online Appendix.


Pandemic Protocols, Native Nutrition: Grocery-Store Access from American Indian Reservations During COVID-19 with R. Akee and E. Simeonova, forthcoming in AEA Papers and Proceedings  Vol 111, May 2021 (pp. 602-06). 

Regular consumption of fresh and nutritious foods affects long-term health. However, residents of American Indian reservations travel substantially more than others for grocery shopping. These inequalities in access to amenities and infrastructure are mirrored in various health outcomes. Currently, Native Americans have 3.5 times the infection rate and 1.5 times the death rate from COVID-19 compared to non-Hispanic whites. We demonstrate that the social distancing policies, intended to slow the spread of the epidemic, may have additional, unanticipated effects on economic and health outcomes. We estimate the effect of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) on the type of grocery stores visited by individuals residing on and off of American Indian reservations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using cell phone tracking data we examine how social distancing measures affected the average distance traveled to grocery stores. We find that there is a larger reduction in the overall distance traveled to grocery stores for on reservation households relative to off-reservation households. We also find evidence that the relative share of trips to convenience stores increases for reservation residents compared to those living off reservations. The shift toward convenience stores, which are less likely to sell fresh and nutritious foods, may exacerbate underlying morbidities and further increase health disparities in the long run.


Studying how state health services delivery policies can mitigate the effects of disasters on drug addiction treatment and overdose: Protocol for a mixed-methods study with Eisenberg M, Fingerhood M, McCourt A, McGinty EE, Rutkow L, Stuart E, Tormohlen K, and White SA, PLOS ONE 16(12): e0261115, 2021.

 In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. states implemented multiple policies designed to mitigate disruptions to addiction treatment and overdose prevention services. This protocol paper proposes a mixed-methods design. Aims 1-2 use difference-in-differences analyses of large-scale observational databases to examine how state policies designed to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services delivery influenced addiction treatment delivery . Aim 3 uses a qualitative embedded multiple case study approach. ms 1-2 use difference-in-differences analyses of large-scale observational databases to examine how state policies designed to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services delivery influenced addiction treatment delivery . Aim 3 uses a qualitative embedded multiple case study approach. ms 1-2 use difference-in-differences analyses of large-scale observational databases to examine how state policies designed to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services delivery influenced addiction treatment delivery . Aim 3 uses a qualitative embedded multiple case study approach. 

Trends in opioid use disorder outpatient treatment and telehealth utilization before and during the COVID-19 pandemic with Tormohlen KN, Eisenberg MD, Fingerhood MI, Yu J, McCourt AD, Stuart EA., Rutkow L, White SA, McGinty EE. Forthcoming in Psychiatr Serv.

This study examined trends in opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment and changes in the distribution of in-person and telehealth modalities following the COVID-19 pandemic onset in the US, among patients receiving OUD care prior to the pandemic. The sample included 13,113 adults insured via commercial insurance or Medicare Advantage receiving OUD treatment between March 2018 to February 2019. Trends in OUD outpatient and MOUD treatment, and the distribution of in-person and telehealth modalities were examined from March 2019. From March 2019 to February 2022, there was a 2.81 and 0.31 percentage point decline in the monthly proportion of patients with OUD outpatient and MOUD visits, respectively. Pre-pandemic, 98.6% of OUD outpatient visits were in-person. Following pandemic onset, 35% of patients received outpatient OUD care via telehealth. Disruptions in OUD outpatient and MOUD treatment were marginal during the pandemic. Increased utilization of telehealth may have helped mitigate major interruptions. 

A New Approach to Estimating Hedonic Equilibrium Models for Metropolitan Housing Markets. with D. Epple and H. Sieg, Journal of Political Economy, 128, No 3, 2020.

We provide a new estimator for a broad class of equilibrium models of metropolitan housing markets with housing differentiated by quality. Quality is a latent variable that captures all features of a dwelling and its environment. We estimate the model for Chicago and New York, obtaining hedonic housing price functions for each quality level for each metropolitan area, stocks of each quality, and compensating variations required for a household of a given income in Chicago to be equally well off in New York. 

Pricing Functions

Market Access and the Concentration of Economic Activity in a System of Declining Cities. with P. Restrepo. REGION,  5(3), pp. 97-109. 

Market access has been widely used as a measure of agglomeration spillovers in models that seek to explain productivity, economic or population growth at the city level. Most results have shown that having higher market access is beneficial to these outcomes. These results, both theoretical and empirical, have been obtained in a context of population growth. This article examines the impact that market access has on a system of cities that has suffered a negative population shock. An extended version of the Brezis and Krugman (1997) model of life cycle of cities predicts that a system of cities experiencing population loss will see a relative reorganization of its population from small to larger cities, and that higher market potential will make this movement stronger. We test these predictions with a comprehensive sample of cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We find that having higher market access - when operating in an environment of population decline - is detrimental to city population growth. This result is robust to different measures of market access that use population. Alternative measures that use economic size rather population are tested, and the result weaker. A possible explanation is that using NLs restricts the sample to only using larger cities.

Ease of Doing Business by region

Nature vs. Nurture vs. Nerd. with J. Imbrogno. Journal of Business, Industry, and Economics, 22, 41-65, 2017. 

We estimate an bayesian network model to predict the commission of a crime by juveniles in the US using an extensive set of information on the individuals. We use longitudinal survey data variables broadly categorized into three groups: Nature (related to family environment) Nurture (related to individuals’ relationship with his family that require active participation), and Nerd (variables describing schooling  performance). The Nerd attributes perform better at predicting crime than Nurture and Nature. Individually, none of these categories perform well in predicting the crime probabilities. A bundle of best predictors is determined, that correctly predict crime in 65.5% of the observations. This bundle has attributes from all categories, which suggests that it is necessary to address the issue of youth crime in all categories, even if educational policies receive special attention.​cities.

Books and Policy

Cities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: A Story of Urban Growth and Decline. with Grace Cineas, Paula Restrepo, and Sofia Zhukova. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. 2017. 

This book provides a historical and contemporaneous analysis of the patterns of growth, and,  most importantly, decline, in the cities of the ECA region, including a discussion of the implication of urbanizing under planned economies and a discussion of recent demographic trends (migration and fertility). Particular importance is given to the region's urban systems and emerging trends in population and economic density using the a database collected specifically for this study. Despite an overall climate of decline, the book analyses underlying factors that could explain relative better performance. Finally, it covers the policy implications of the study’s empirical findings. The report is complemented by 17 country-level snapshots, which describe in detail country specific trends. The report is based on a unique city-level database collected specifically for it, which covers more than 5,000 cities in the region and provides harmonized data on economic activity, night lights and spatial measures, population, sprawl, urban multi-city agglomerations, and 1st order location fundamentals.  This database was published in the World Bank Data catalog.


Public Procurement: Autonomy vs Control. Chapter in the book A More Effective State: Capacities for designing, implementing and evaluating public policies. Bogotá: CAF. 2015. 

This book studies the role of the capacities of government agencies and institutions to design policies and put them into practice on the effectiveness of such policies. The chapter studies public procurement as an input in the production of governmental goods and services, and the implementation of public policies. It provides a comparative analysis of the systems in Latin American, and their connection to government effectiveness, as well as quantitative evidence of the relationship.

Ukraine Urbanization Review, (with Paula Restrepo, Benjamin Stewart, Katie McWilliams, and Sofia Zhukova).  Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group. 2015. 

This book links population dynamics with economic dynamics, and presents emerging spatial characteristics and trends. Ukraine has experienced a dramatic population decline over the past two decades, which impacts the urban system. The study uses historical data sets as well as historical maps. Part one outlines recent demographic changes and the impact of urban systems. Part two connects these dynamics to actions of local and regional governments. The final part analyses current urban and spatial planning practices and their shortcomings in view of changing demographics.

Blogs and Media Mentions

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